Countless times in Season 2 of HBO’s Westworld, we hear characters say they’re looking for “fidelity.” Dolores wants a perfect version of Bernard before he can be released into the park. William is looking for the perfect version of James Delos, over and over.
Taking a look as a whole at the recently concluded second season of Westworld, I wouldn’t say it was perfect. But I still enjoyed it immensely and feel it was a vast improvement over the first season.
As I wrote about after Episode 7, the new season of Westworld continued to use multiple timelines to tell its story. But this time around, the timelines — while sometimes a little convoluted — were more transparent.
Toward the end of the season, Westworld broke out two of my favorite episodes, which were much more straightforward. Episode 8 took us through a journey explaining the park’s mysterious Lakota tribe, with the following episode filling us in on the circumstances surrounding the death of the Man in Black’s wife Juliet.
Then came the finale. And that’s when the second season of Westworld went full-on Westworld on us.
Going into the finale, I expected a culmination at the Valley Beyond, along with some twists along the way. That all did happen, but with so much more. By the end of the 1.5-hour episode, I was pretty overwhelmed and mighty confused. It felt a bit crammed and possibly could have benefited from stretching the frantic surprises out across multiple episodes. But after some time to rewatch and digest it, I can say that it was a damn fine conclusion to an impressive second season.
Let’s get to some of the many big moments of the Westworld Season 2 finale.
A hot topic of discussion among the hosts in this season was a place called the Valley Beyond, or as others called it, “Glory.” In the finale, we are finally shown this destination, only to learn it has yet another name: the Forge.
The Forge houses data from all of the guests who have visited the park, capturing their every move. It also contains “the Door,” a gateway for hosts’ minds to enter and be “free.”
I was expecting an explanation of the Door and Valley, but it was still a lot to take in during an episode in which so much happens. Nearly every character in the show converges on the Valley in this episode — hosts looking to reach the Door, QA soldiers looking to kill all of the hosts, Maeve making sure her daughter is safe. But it is two of Westworld‘s most important characters, Bernard and Dolores, who show us what the Forge is really all about.
Bernard and Dolores (after leaving the Man in Black behind nursing a blown-off hand) head down an elevator (so many elevators and hidden laboratories in Westworld!) and enter the inside of the Forge. Here, they come across a replication of Logan, son of James Delos, as the system in charge of all of the guest copies.
This was about the moment I started to think I was confused.
Still within the Forge, Bernard and Dolores enter a giant library filled with books representing the data of the park’s guests. This is what Dolores came for, as she is looking for information on how to survive outside of Westworld — in the real world. We see her sift through a book labeled with Karl Strand’s (the head of Delos Operations we see in the future timeline throughout the season) name, and then it’s time to head back to the underground Forge area.
Dolores activates some sort of fail-safe flooding protocol (which explains the mysterious lake we see in the very first episode), and poor Bernard decides he needs to stop her from killing more humans and hosts. He pulls a gun on her and eventually shoots her though the eye. (At least I think it’s Bernard who shoots her. The camera inexplicably pulls away as we hear a gun go off and Dolores falls to the floor in a pool of blood. No one else is shown in the room, so I’m not sure who else would have pulled the trigger, but the camera usage is odd here.)
The Mysterious Elevator Scene
Interspersed with the scenes in the Forge and the battle outside the Door, we see the Man in Black wake up supposedly just after he blows his hand off outside the elevator leading to the Forge. He wraps his hand and stumbles into the elevator, awkwardly trying to ready the pistol in his belt.
As he rides down the elevator, we are shown the scene with Bernard killing Dolores. Bernard walks to the elevator and we assume he and the Man in Black are on course to run into each other. But when the elevator doors open for Bernard — it’s empty.
While this moment caused mass confusion during my first viewing, I think it’s my favorite part of the finale. It does have a bit of a “tricked you” feeling that I disliked from the first season. But I think it worked really well in this case.
Later in this article, I’ll have more thoughts on what happens here — and why we don’t see the Man in Black encounter Bernard in the elevator.
Charlotte is Dolores?
Prompted by witnessing Charlotte Hale shoot Elsie, Bernard suffers one of his many breakdowns and comes to the conclusion that maybe he made a mistake in killing Dolores. This triggers an internal (imagined) conversation with Robert Ford, where Bernard says he wants the hosts to live on.
Next, time flashes to a quick montage of Bernard and Ford creating a new host. It isn’t outright confirmed, but I assume this re-creation was the copy made by Bernard (shown earlier in the season). I had originally thought this copy would end up being for Ford, but instead it leads to the most eye-roll-inducing moment of the finale:
In the future timeline, Charlotte is in fact a re-creation of Dolores. “In the flesh,” she says, before she shoots Strand and the others in the room. Yikes.
This seemed like an unnecessary twist to me; I’m still not really sure why Bernard would bring Dolores back as Charlotte. But Westworld doesn’t always make sense, I guess.
As Charlotte/Dolores shoots Bernard, you’d think this would just about wrap up the season. However, the final 10-15 minutes hits viewers with an avalanche of new revelations.
Into the Real World
Equipped with the knowledge acquired from the Forge, Dolores/Charlotte departs the park’s island with a number of host keys in her bag. But first she encounters Stubbs, who throws out a number of lines to make us all think he is a host (being loyal is his “core drive” and he will “stick to the role Ford gave me”), and lets her pass even though he knows what she is. I’m not a fan of this development if Stubbs actually ends up being a host, although, it would be interesting to go back to the first season to look for clues — I wonder if this was in the plans the whole time or a late decision for the Westworld writers?
Bernard once again finds himself in a strange place talking to Dolores — but this time, we are outside of the park, in the real-life home that belonged to Arnold. Charlotte has created versions of Bernard and Dolores and they’re now living out their own version of The Real World: Westworld. A few hosts picked to live in-house to find out what happens when hosts start getting real.
Jokes aside, I really loved this scene’s use of Radiohead’s Codex while Bernard walks around Arnold’s house, with lyrics echoing visions from this season: “Sleight of hand/Jump off the end/The water’s clear and innocent”. When this song kicked in it gave me chills.
The End (for Real This Time)
With Radiohead still playing, the credits roll as you try to figure out what all just happened. But Westworld wasn’t quite finished. (Side note: Although in a different manner, I can’t think of another show messing with its audience during the credits since the Soprano’s series finale.)
After the credits, we return to the Man in Black riding an elevator, and here we think, “Oh great, an explanation about why he didn’t run into Bernard earlier in the episode.” With his hand still bandaged, the Man in Black exits into a version of the Forge, presumably many years into the future as everything is covered in dust and sand.
He is welcomed by a re-created version of his daughter Emily, who runs him through a similar “baseline” interview we saw earlier in the season with James Delos. She tells him it has been a “long time,” and the Man in Black mutters he has been going through this “again and again,” intimating he is stuck in a loop.
This presented so many questions that I thought my head would explode when I first saw this.
Obviously this version of the Man in Black is not human, but does this mean the character we’ve been watching for the past two seasons of Westworld was a host this whole time?
I’m probably an idiot for having this opinion, but I don’t think the Man in Black was a host. There definitely is evidence that he could be a host: The brutal shooting he survives in Episode 7, early in the season he patches up his arm similarly to how hosts are healed, he even digs into his own arm looking for evidence of wires or something else that would indicate he’s a host (although we are never told one way or the other).
On the other side of the argument, we have seen William age into the Man in Black, so *at some point* he was definitely human. He also “passed” one of the Delos QA scans (yes I realize the scan test is probably laughably unreliable, as we see Dolores/Charlotte pass a scan before leaving the park). And perhaps the strongest argument in my opinion, we see a version of the Man in Black in the Forge, which holds copies of real people — not hosts. So I’m sticking with the Man in Black not being a host during the first two seasons. There have to be some humans on this show, right?
Another question: The Man in Black’s journeys we’ve seen so far — were they all merely some sort of test, just part of this loop he’s in? I believe everything we saw happen to the Man in Black during this season actually happened — it wasn’t part of his loop. With one (or possibly two) exceptions: the scene from earlier when he gets on the elevator outside the Forge. I believe that scene with him waking up with his hand blown off is part of a loop, hence why Bernard does not run into him in the elevator. When he wakes up, there are only two QA soldiers in the vicinity; there should have been three. So that could point to it being a different time — part of one of the loops in which he meets Emily in the Forge many years in the future. We do know that the Man in Black is recovered by the Delos team around the time Charlotte/Dolores is leaving the island. I think the Man in Black’s loops begin sometime after that moment. Another scene I wonder about being part of the Man in Black’s loop is when he comes across the young-boy version of Robert Ford in Episode 1 and is told: “The game begins where you end, and ends where you began. The game will find you.” If this isn’t part of his loop, it certainly foreshadows it.
One more note on the Man in Black’s fate at the end of this season: I loved the (what I would assume is intentional) call-outs to Stephen King’s Dark Tower book series, in which there is a character referred to as the Man in Black, the gun-toting main character Roland suffers a misfortune that severs a portion of his hand, and ***spoiler*** that same character finds himself at the end of the final book in a giant loop.
Once Again, I have Questions
We’ll never have all the answers with Westworld. Here are my main questions after the end of the second season.
How many different versions of Bernard did we see during this season? In Episode 7, we see a room filled with retired versions of Bernard. This introduced an idea for me: Is there more than one Bernard walking around at the same time? It was easy to miss, but there’s at least one scene that shows multiple versions at one time. In the timeline with Karl Strand, Bernard (one version) enters the Forge to come across the murdered Dolores. As they are walking in, you can make out a fuzzy but undeniable version of Bernard in the foreground, who steps into the shadows as the group enters the room. I imagine this other Bernard planted the key found in Delores’s head later in the scene. But this made me wonder if other scenes involve different Bernards. Something to look out for in future rewatches!
What was the deal with the blood on Bernard’s hand when he walks into the elevator after shooting Dolores? I may be over thinking this one, as he was walking away from a murder scene, but Bernard’s hand appear to be clean before he enters the elevator. But then when he steps in, he looks at his hand and notices blood. I’m not really sure what was going on here, but the show really seemed to make a point of this.
One last Bernard-related question: Between Episodes 1 and 3, during the seemingly same storyline, Bernard changes from a black suit and shirt to a white shirt and gray suit. Is there a reason behind this, is it a continuity error, or am I just over thinking things again?
Was Emily a host? I posed this question in my previous article, and we were not given a definitive answer in the final three episodes. The Man in Black certainly thought she was all a part of Ford’s game, and shot her before discovering her holding a key card from William’s real life. I think this moment was meant to make us think Emily was not a host, but I actually lean on the side of the Man in Black here. Emily was able to speak the Lakota language, similar to the capabilities of a host. Her dead body was also shown at the end along among dead hosts.
Season 2 of Westworld upped the stakes and increased my expectations for the show going forward. It has the potential to improve to great-show status (if it’s not there already), and with the next season starting to venture out into the real world, the possibilities are endless. I will be hoping to see more of what was done in “Kiksuya” (Episode 8). But I won’t be surprised if it’s more along the lines of the Season 2 finale.